NIGERIA: Following the collapse of the agreement for Chinese engineering companies to fund as well as build its ambitious standard-gauge rail network, the Nigerian government has been looking for alternative sources of finance.

But a recent approach to the World Bank seems to have come away empty-handed. The bank's advisers suggest that the first priority should be to reconstruct sections of the existing 1 067 mm gauge Western and Eastern main lines leading inland from Lagos to Kano and Port Harcourt to Kaduna. With this completed, the Bank says the 'threshold traffic density for economic viability' could be reached by 2010. 'Rehabilitation of the rest of the main line should be carried out a few years later, or using second-hand materials so that investment per route-km is substantially lower.'

If new lines are to be funded through a PPP, the Bank suggests that an 800 km east-west route from Lagos to Enugu and Umuahia 'should be evaluated for financial viability'.

We will be interested to hear how this welcome outbreak of common sense is received in Abuja.